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Friday, February 27, 2009

Sean-Peter overflowed the toilet, the cat threw up on the carpet, and Conner has strep. It's been a banner of a day.

I caught myself getting irritated, with that familiar annoyance toward the military healthcare system that necessitates going to the base emergency room and triaging your child in to see a doctor, instead of easily making a same-day urgent care appointment like it used to be Back in the Day.

But I reminded myself of something I had just read by another blogger I love to follow, who recently visited a children's hospital in Morocco, the country where they now make their home. And I remembered how good, how really, really good we truly have it.

Even in These Times, in this country, with so many people searching for work and going without healthcare, we are taken care of. John's job is secure, our trips to the doctor are paid for, medicine we need is at our fingertips. So what if we have to wait for it.

(Though perhaps that is easier for me to say: John's the one who took off work to sit with Conner at the ER for half the day.)

After all, my son has motrin to make him smile. And a sister.Who merely saw this as another opportunity to show her love, Olivia style. And that's nothing to shake a stick at.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why American Idol is Bad for My Health

Usually it's popcorn.Sometimes it's cake.Last night, Conner presented me with this.Seriously. I made him reenact it for a photo. In rare 13-year-old form he obliged. A pan of these brownies lasts about five minutes in this house, by the way. (Just in case you were thinking of happening by.)

Now, I don't have a weight problem, per se. But sheesh.

Yes, American Idol is a tradition in this house. Bonding for a mother and son, you might say. So weird to think he has practically grown up watching this, with a bit of a break during our time in Italy when the episodes were one day behind and we weren't spoiled with a DVR.

He really is becoming quite the baker. Mostly with mixes so far, but hey -- you gotta start somewhere.

Yesterday when he made these brownies he says, "I feel like baking something. I don't even feel like eating it, I just want to make it." I know you all are so jealous.

Or not, as your conscious may dictate. As it is, I suppose I could stop buying the mixes ... But that would be like discouraging culinary instinct, wouldn't it? Besides, I've had all these coupons...

Poor guy. Tonight he wasn't exactly baking up a storm. The crud that went through this house is apparently doing a revisit; or maybe it just told its friends that this was a wonderful place to be, because no sooner did everyone finally get over it than did the little stinker poor Sean-Peter start his barking seal cough again. And today Conner was home sick from school, and Conner is never home sick from school.

He seems to be doing much better now, though we'll know for sure in the morning. I'm sure he'll be up and baking again in no time. Even having his cake and eating it, too, so to speak.

*Is anyone else keeping up with American Idol? I was a bit disappointed that Megan didn't stay on this week, though I believe she has a chance at the wild card. I'm not sure that Nick aka "Norman Gentle" does, though -- at least not if Simon has anything to say about it. And he definitely has something to say about it. I can't help but be a little sorry that we might not see him back. I thought he was very entertaining. And he had some pipes, too.

And what was up with Kara tonight? Telling Matt how she was "so hard on him" last night because she
likes him so much? Um, a little late? Like, if she thinks he's "so great" maybe she should have encouraged the audience to keep him around to show us what he can really do? Because that guy does have talent. Piano dueling? Come on. How cool is that?? That's some mad keyboard skillz he's got, is all I can say. It's too bad we might never see them again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

When New Friends Become Old Friends

We've been taking turns getting sick around here. The Cold Plague, as it seems. I am much better myself now, thank you very much for asking. But Olivia's ears started hurting yesterday, so naturally her little brother determined we should listen to her heart.We did take her to a real doctor today, and it turns out she has a double ear infection. Poor thing.

Before she started feeling so poorly -- or at least started complaining about it -- we had a wonderful time with some friends from Germany and their beautiful bilingual girls.We knew Stephanie and Doug while we were living in Italy and hadn't seen them in over two years -- they left Italy several months before we did. Doug has since retired from the Air Force and they now live near Trier, Germany, Stephanie being German herself. And we couldn't have been more pleased that they made it work to see us during their latest trip to the States.

The last time their Emma and our Olivia were together they were three years old, the best of friends.This month they each celebrated their sixth birthday, within one day of each other. And within minutes of their reunion they resumed their friendship as if the last two years had never existed.A couple of years ago, Maya and Sean-Peter were a couple of drooling mischief makers.
Now settled into each other with a friendship in its own right.
In a lifestyle such as ours, when regular moves make relationship building a rather tenuous endeavor, it's friendships like these that can stand the test of time. Which is why I am so grateful and glad they made the effort and took the time and energy to come our way. Only time will tell how our children will relate to each other as the years pass, but I really hope to continue to give them the opportunity to find out.

***
The second night they were here we had some other friends come by, another family we had also known at Aviano, who came for dinner and added two more girls to the mix, both around the same ages as the other four.The kids all played, really, exceptionally well all evening. With only one noticeable complaint from Sean-Peter early on, "But I don't want to be the monster!" Poor guy was dreadfully outnumbered.This is Autumn and Paul. A beautiful couple if there ever was one. They PCS'd to Wright-Patt from Italy a couple of months before we did. Before Italy we were both in Las Vegas at the same time, too. (Although we didn't know each other then.)

Do you notice a trend?

Like us, they came to Ohio with orders to stay at least four years. EXCEPT -- Paul tested for Chief and got it on the first try. That like, never happens. He's some kind of genius superhero or something. The catch, though, is that he had to find a new job: There are only so many positions available for Chiefs. Chances were slim that he would find one at Wright-Patt, so...

John and I were all like, "Get us somewhere good!"

Sure enough, they just found out they have to PCS this June -- to Hawaii. Gee, that's rough.

Except I actually wouldn't want to move to Hawaii. I've heard the schools aren't any good. Anyone want to share anything they know about that?Here we all are, Stephanie, Autumn and I. And I really do feel like I must explain. Because I am not that short, honestly. Yes, we are all standing. But it's just that they're so tall. Both Stephanie and Doug are over six feet. Seriously. I feel like a munchkin. Here they are, for instance, doing my dishes, of all things.Are these friends, or what? I didn't know whether to kiss them or take away their passports.

And they are the most beautiful couple as well, I just have to add. For some reason I never took a photo of them side-by-side. But isn't Stephanie just glowing? She should -- not only did they just come from vacationing in Florida, she's also baking a new little bun in the oven. A little, "Whoops, what a surprise! but isn't it wonderful?" addition to their family. I'm so happy for them.


This photo is completely gratuitous, but I just think Emma's outfit complete with stockings is too, too adorable. To me, this totally speaks German.And for your viewing pleasure, I give you about a minute of mindless chatter of five little girls -- and one little boy desperately trying to hold his own and make his voice heard.

video
And just for the record, Stephanie? If you guys found yourselves getting sick after you left here I am really, really sorry. I'm still so glad you came.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Trying to Grocery Shop on a Budget

I have been neglectful not mentioning my friend Erin's $5 Dinner Workshop that she held a couple of weeks ago in the Dayton area. She discussed healthy eating, portion control, couponing, grocery store advertisements, and meal planning, among other things...

She had limited the (free-of-charge) class size to 50 and it filled up quite quickly. (Have I mentioned that her website has really taken off?) Of course, at the last minute a number of people had to cancel or otherwise didn't show, but the room she had reserved at the local library was still rather cozy.

I am of two minds about shopping at the commissary versus the civilian market and local stores like Kroger or Meijer's. Based on what I have learned from sites like Erin's, I do know that you can learn to play The Game of combining weekly sales with coupons and walk away saving 40% and more off of your grocery bill (as Erin does regularly). HOWEVER -- half of the time I see a "good deal" in a grocery mailer it seems I discover that same item at the commissary for the same price or lower; and the other half of the time I won't can't justify an extra trip just for one item...

I sat with a couple of other friends at the workshop who also happen to be military. Next to my friend Deanna was a woman who we learned was also married to military, and at the end of the workshop we got into a discussion about the commissary vs. Kroger. The other woman commented on how she wished she didn't live so far away (25-30 minutes) from the commissary because it was so much cheaper than going locally. Deanna completely disagreed and said that Kroger was cheaper if you shopped their sales and used their double coupons.

I sat there and said nothing because I was completely undecided. I haven't, after all, attempted to seriously play The Game and go all out with meal planning and stockpiling around local stores' weekly sales and matching those items with available coupons. That's what Erin and others like her do, which is what enables them to walk away paying perhaps $80 for what would otherwise be a $140 grocery bill.

I have slowly started paying attention to the commissary's own sales, which they do have, just for several weeks at a time instead of weekly. The commissary doesn't double coupons, but they do have their own which they display in the aisles next to the items. (You can also find them online.) And I know this sounds stupid, but I used to only use these coupons if I happened to have that item on my list that day; I never took extra or stocked up on them for future shopping (e.g. to match with that item when it went on sale).

"Small moves, Ellie." (Name that movie.)

I am much better with couponing now, though I am still working on coordinating coupon usage with the sales and meal planning and stockpiling accordingly. I have cut my grocery budget down by quite a bit: I now regularly spend under $100 per week instead of over. And considering toiletries, personal items, and various household needs are included in that I think that's pretty good, at least for now.

After Erin's workshop, appropriately enough, I headed to the commissary for my weekly visit. I was behind schedule because of snow days which caused the base to even close, of all things (that like, never happens). I would normally never go on a Saturday, especially when it falls right after pay-day. I figured it would be a bit crazy, especially after the snow days, and perhaps even because of the Superbowl the next day. (I told you I was a bit neglectful posting about this.)

But HOLY SCHMOKES, people.
Yes, I had my camera. (I'm not a complete freak -- I had just come from Erin's workshop, remember.) The picture above means nothing to you, I know. So let me just explain that this is the end of the line for checking out and it's at the back of the store.

Right after I took this some guy said, "Oh, yea? This is nothing. When I got in the line it was all the way by the cucumbers."

The cucumbers are right by the front entrance, meaning the line went all the way from the front to the back of the store, along the whole back, to the other side, up along that edge, before heading back to the front. Here I was in the back corner, finally heading back toward the front.Once you go toward the front of the store again, the line looked like this. If you squint your eyes you can glimpse the registers up ahead, well beyond the Bakery sign.

Phew, made it! But what's this?Once you reached the registers the line switched back, three times. (Yes, around the toilet paper.) Normally this line alone would cause people to sigh and mutter to themselves. Now they're just glad to finally be within shouting distance of the end.

I had never seen it like this before, at this base or any other, that I recall. I know it was an unusual weekend with a pay-day and the Superbowl following base closings and bad weather. But still.

Luckily I ran into my friend Natalee, who had also been at Erin's workshop. She was ready to check out and was heading up to grab some magazines to look through while she walked through the line. Brilliance. So she grabbed me a couple, too.

Natalee had done a better job than I had that day of comparing the latest Kroger flyer to the commissary prices; I'd had every intention of going that road until I saw how thick the traffic was and decided to simply focus on navigating. She and I had both agreed earlier that we just couldn't handle the logistics of store hopping always looking for the best deal. But we both were reluctant to completely switch stores, too, in hopes that playing The Game would save us more than shopping the commissary's regular prices.

Before heading for the line, she pointed at the Kroger flyer in frustration. She'd had her eye on their special that week for pork chops, but she'd made a point to compare the price and had discovered that the commissary's regular price for the same item was still cheaper. "That's why I'm just sticking with the commissary!" She'd finally made up her mind.

I must say that I'm not exactly in a rush to go to The Other Side myself. It's taken me this long to get my mojo down with the commissary here; by the time I got it down with another store it'd probably be time to move again. I figure I just need to fine tune the commissary sales with my coupons and meal planning and I'll be good to go.

What about you guys? You fellow military peeps out there? Do you all make a point of shopping the commissary? Or do you just go to the closest store and shop their sales? Buy generic? Double-coupon it? (Do you care?)

I am hoping to get Erin to the commissary some day very soon. That woman carries a calculator around in her head. I figure she'll be able to cruise the aisles with me and give me the low-down, with much less effort than my trying to figure it out all on my own. As you can imagine, synching our weekday schedules is difficult, but I'll try to give you an update once it happens.

**If you've read this far, and you live in Texas (or southern Oklahoma) you might be interested in going to Erin's workshop in Dallas that she's holding next weekend. Go to her site for more information, or go to register here. There is a $5 fee for this workshop.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A birthday for my daughter.

Dear Olivia,
You just turned six years old this week. You bring us so much joy it's hard to imagine a time when you weren't a part of our lives. Your zest for life, your exuberance and enthusiasm for absolutely everything -- it's endearing, relentless, and contagious.

Two days ago, the day of your birthday, you got off the school bus and scampered up to the house through the snow, wearing a birthday crown and so excited about your day. "Do you have a surprise party waiting for me!?" Well, I have no idea where that idea came from. But then, I have no idea where most of your ideas come from. And I couldn't help but feel a pang of regret that I didn't, actually, have a houseful of people hiding inside just waiting to jump out and yell, "Surprise!" If anyone would appreciate such a show of celebration, it would be you.

I have often felt like the exact opposite kind of mom who would serve you best, so out of touch I am with all things hostess and crafty; and this creative, ebullient spirit you possess that often takes me so aback. You are the girl, after all, who impulsively declares at least once a week, "We're going to have a party!" whether it's for your little brother, or your daddy, or your favorite stuffed animal of the week. You busy yourself with making decorations and party hats, then parade around the house, "It's ready! It's time for the party!"

Our walls are covered with your drawings. John calls it Art Spam. It is everywhere, and it is constant. No room is sacred. Your only backstop is my not buying you a limitless supply of scotch tape. You go through about half a tree of printer paper every week, it seems. I do throw so much away, but it is relentless. And so much of it is for me, for your daddy, for your unappreciative brother ... what gets me are the ones saying, "I love you, mommy." With those I definitely cannot part, and they are stacked away in my nightstand. I do recognize that this, too, shall pass. Perhaps one day I will cull through them, but not now.

You possess an innate ability to express your feelings that never ceases to amaze me. It's amusing, and humbling. Your intuition is so finely tuned I have to remind myself that things don't slide by you easily as they always seemed to with your older brother. Your innocent and heartfelt, "That's okay, mom -- I know you're tired," catching me off-guard on more than one occasion at a vulnerable moment.

You lost your first tooth and couldn't believe your grand luck that the Tooth Fairy was going to come to your room! You were so excited to find the quarter under your pillow that I was near speechless when you immediately offered it to me. "Here, mom. You need this more than I do." It was so sincere that I couldn't turn it away.

You lost your second tooth a few weeks later. That quarter, you kept.


You are a total daddy's girl. You have him wrapped around your little finger and have totally played him more than once. Most nights since your little brother was born (unless daddy's away) the two of you snuggle up with your books, you now reading to him more often than not. You've always laughed at his silliness, even when he's being ornery and you can't really understand the humor. Like when he reads Laura Numeroff's "If You Give a Pig a Pancake," and your daddy makes up the next line to read, "He'll ask for some sausage to go with it. The End." Then promptly closes the book.

Or when he calls Dr. Seuss the Windbag and reads "Green Eggs and Ham" with its ad nauseam repetition. Instead of reading the old geezer character's entire response to Sam's, "Would you like them with a .... ?" John improvises with a simple, "No." Then turns to skip over an entire page while you giggle and exclaim, "Come on, daddy!"

Lately your little brother has developed a daddy kick of his own, after four years of being completely content with mom. This has led him to demand at bedtime, "No, I want daddy to read to me!" I act all hurt and pretend to suffer emotional distress that no one wants mommy and doesn't anyone want me to lie down with them anymore?

Sean-Peter expresses no remorse and carries on with his demands. You always come through to console me, often leaning against me or laying a soft arm on my shoulder, "I'll lie down with you, mommy." Like, don't worry. I get that you may be acting silly, but a part of you really does feel left out, so I'll make the sacrifice.

Your big brother still likes to repeat the phrase you coined, "You're breaking my heart into a million pieces!" He's even had his friends using it in that goofy, self-amusing, dorky way that middle schoolers have. It's one of those expressions that we will always remember and associate with a precocious little preschooler, running to her room with tears in her eyes, while we struggle (alas, often unsuccessfully) to hold in our laughter and take a little girl's very real feelings seriously.

The other day you casually remarked, totally out of the blue, as you are wont to do, "You love all of your children! And someday I will have children, and you will love them, too! Because that's how love works. It just grows and grows."

Aw, you are so right, Olivia.

Then, "...but you will still love me the most."

That's my girl.

It seems like yesterday you just turned five.And now you're six.I don't know if you'll always love to wear your dresses, and want me to braid your hair while it's wet so it'll be curly in the morning, or if you'll still try to sneak around wearing makeup. But I can't wait to find out.

*********
My sister and her youngest son put together the cutest video ever wishing Olivia a happy birthday. It's very short -- go check it out.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Until we meet again, Uncle John. You will be missed.

My Uncle John died last night. He was 79 years old and lived a full, wonderful life.

He and my Aunt Naomi got married when they were both 18 years old. That's right, they were married for 61 years. That's a lifetime for some people.

My Aunt Naomi was 13 years old when my dad was born, a surprise baby that wasn't supposed to be possible. So my dad was just five when John became his brother-in-law. I don't think there's a time in his life that my dad can remember when John wasn't a part of it. I imagine John's role in his life morphed from that of a big brother/uncle figure, to brother, to something akin to friend and brother all rolled into one.

And they did see each other regularly over the years, despite their age differences and the busyness of raising families and the years they lived in different states: my aunt and uncle moving from Nebraska to Colorado; my parents moving from Nebraska to Colorado, with a brief stop in Indiana before finally settling in Kansas.

Aunt Naomi and Uncle John raised four children, now grown of course, and all with grown children of their own. By the time my dad met my mom and they got around to the business of making a family of their own, the oldest of Aunt Naomi and Uncle John's kids were becoming adults: their oldest granddaughter and I were actually born two months apart -- she the elder, as I remember her bossily reminding me whenever we'd argue about who should get their way when we would play during our annual get togethers. Being the youngest of three sisters, though, I was accustomed to such domineering tactics and had mastered the art of either acquiescing or knowing how to tattle when I didn't feel like giving in.

I have vague memories of visiting my Aunt and Uncle in their home in Denver when I was a very young child. While the outline of their home there is rather fuzzy, the image of the cliff divers inside the Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant we visited as a treat is quite distinct.

Their dream was to build a home in the mountains, which they finished sometime during my grade school years. My memory is completely fuzzy on this detail. I seem to recall that they did much of the work themselves, putting their heart and soul and sweated brow into what must have been the culmination of years of dreaming and planning. I am certain that I did not understand or appreciate the significance of any of this at the time.

And this home in the mountains was incredible. I wish I had a photo to post for you, but picture a narrow road disappearing up a mountain in the Rockies, winding its way around for a few miles, and just when you think you really shouldn't have had that second helping at breakfast you finally crest a hill and rather abruptly arrive at the driveway to a beautiful A-frame home nestled on a slope with a wrap-around porch overlooking the river below.

The sound of that river rushing acted as a constant backdrop to their mountain home, much the same way beach dwellers experience the constant roar of the ocean. When the rains fell and the snows melted the river would swell and rage with such ferocity I remember the adults shutting all the windows and doors so they could hear each other well enough to carry on a conversation.

But mostly I don't remember spending a whole lot of time inside at all. We usually visited for about a week or 10 days in the summertime when school was out and our working parents were ready for a vacation -- this was America, after all, the most developed Western country with the least amount of leisure time. Mom and Dad would hang out with Aunt Naomi, and Uncle John if he wasn't working, often on the porch, reading and soaking in the sun. My mother every year would get a sunburn and exclaim, "Oh, I always forget how much stronger the sun is up this high, the air is so dry and cool compared to the heat and humidity in Kansas!" And I would wonder for the umpteenth time why they had ever left Colorado.

We kids became quite familiar with that mountain, left to our own devices to wander freely, coming back when we got hungry. There was an island in the river that you could get to by crawling over a log, often slick from the splashing current. So daring to traverse, but the island was always crawling with ants which dimmed the adventure and we didn't visit it often.

In the other direction was a fairly sturdy bridge where you could cross the river with much less bravado. I loved crossing that bridge, feeling my weight bounce the general ricketiness a homemade bridge affords. But my cousin hated it and always had to be coaxed. She had fallen in that river once and had been swept away, before the bridge was built and there were only logs to get you across. She was very young at the time and the memory left an indelible print on her brain, understandably so. But at the time I always thought she was being overly dramatic.

After crossing the river we would head up the mountain on the other side. If you went far enough you would get to an old mining railroad track. Farther still and you would come to an old abandoned mining shack. At least I think that's what these things were. I seem to recall one time disturbing an old bum there, a homeless man probably, just looking for a roof to rest his head under.

In the very early days I remember pausing to drink straight from a mountain stream. But by the time I was in high school we were warned that may no longer be safe, so we were left with what water we carried with us, which was often none, forcing us to cut our expedition short. Mostly we just stayed close on that mountain, though. There was plenty to do and explore.

Uncle John usually tried to take time off work during these visits, but he did continue to work in Denver even during those years living up in the mountains, commuting at least an hour each way. He did shift work, for an auto plant, sometimes leaving the house basically in the middle of the night. Very rarely did he ever miss a day of work, even for the weather. He always shoveled to get his car out and make it down that mountain. On the rare occasion he did miss a day they never doubted him when he called in: If John said he was snowed in then he must good and stuck.

Uncle John also chopped all the wood they needed to heat their home, which in the Colorado Rockies can be a lot, as you can imagine. He is still one of the hardest workers I have ever known.

After many, wonderful years in their mountain home my Uncle John was told by his employer that they needed to transfer him to Kansas City. He was not ready to retire and so they had to make the decision to leave their home they had worked so hard to build. At the time I heard about this I was aghast. How could they leave? Was there any way they could keep it? But my dad told me that they had come to terms with it, that John wasn't getting any younger and it was hard, back-breaking work to keep the house warm all winter and it was probably just as well. I didn't really understand this at all at the time, but I do now. It was simply time.

As they were preparing to move, my Aunt Naomi was diagnosed with breast cancer. Leaving her home, leaving her doctors -- it all seemed like so much. But they ended up loving their home in Kansas City, living near the conveniences of a city living and especially the medical care that she needed.

Aunt Naomi conquered her cancer, but she continues to cope with complications that remain with her even today. At one point I remember learning that she had taken a bad turn and she had to be admitted to the hospital. About this same time, John had hurt himself in his workshop, cutting off the tip of this finger. And their beloved dog died.

Aunt Naomi gave everyone a good scare but did recover, and Uncle John, ever positive, joked that his life was a country song, "I lost my finger, and my dog, and almost lost my wife!"*

Moving forward several years, they eventually moved back to Denver, to be near their children, selling their home and leaving the responsibility of home ownership. For years they had loved to travel with their camper trailer, visiting friends and family and just seeing the country, but eventually even this tapered off.

The last time we were able to see them was two years ago last su
mmer, they came to Kansas to visit the same time we were visiting from Italy. Our first trip to the States in two years. Uncle John wasn't feeling too well then -- turned out he had acquired whooping cough, not an easy malady for a man in his 70s to endure. (I should know: my daughter came down with the same thing.) It was a usual, busy time with family -- kids everywhere, gatherings with lots of people talking at the same time. Aunt Naomi and Uncle John were a comfortable presence, something you don't want to take for granted, but nevertheless you do.

My John -- my husband, John -- was supposed to go on a TDY to Colorado Springs a couple of months ago. He was planning on making a trip up to Denver one weekend, to visit Aunt Naomi and Uncle John, at least to pop in and say hello, chat about the kids and life and who cares what. His TDY was canceled at the last minute, and even though it was him and not me -- and not all of us -- I feel regret. Like we missed out on an opportunity.

The memorial service for my uncle is this Saturday, in Denver. Tha
t is the same day of my Great Aunt Tiny's 100th Birthday Celebration in San Diego that my parents have been planning to attend for months. What would you do? As it is, my dad thinks they are keeping their plans, and will go to see Aunt Naomi soon after. It is still so soon, and yes, even though he had not been well -- he was 79, and his heart was weakening -- it was still a bit unexpected. You tell yourself you know it will happen someday, but...

My Aunt Naomi is surrounded by her children now, and soon more family will gather. It is as it should be. I really can't imagine her life without Uncle John, but
I can imagine them together again one day. He is in heaven right now, and Aunt Naomi knows she will be there one day, too. And that is what matters and is I'm sure what she is holding onto right now.

*I am paraphrasing here, but maybe if someone in the family is reading this and remembers a different version, they can share it below.